HL Deb 19 July 1928 vol 71 cc1189-214

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Younger of Leckie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:


Clause 1 [Closing hours]:

VISCOUNT SUMNER moved to add to Clause 1 the following new subsection:— (4) Any shop may be kept open during the general closing hours if no person other than the occupier of the shop is employed or engaged in or about the business of the shop during those hours.

The noble and learned Viscount said: As I dare say your Lordships are aware, the object of the Amendment which I now ask leave to move is to restore to this Bill a clause which was in it in its original form, which formed an integral part of the Bill as prepared by its original promoters, and a clause which only disappeared in another place, in Committee, because it was made a term of the Bill's receiving further Government support that that clause should be omitted. I ask leave, however, to move to re-insert the clause not exactly in the form in which it originally stood, because I wish to substitute the word "occupier" for "owner" of the shop. That is more in conformity with the general language of the Bill. I think it removes the possibility of some misunderstanding, and I think, if your Lordships are minded to restore this clause at all, you will consider that in this form it will be more effectual and better understood.

Of course it will be a question of fact whether the occupier is a single person or one person and his partner, but it is quite clear that upon that wording no one could under that subsection keep his shop open beyond the general closing hours, by the use or employment of any assistant, paid or unpaid. Whatever be the title of the Bill, which is the Shops (Hours of Closing) Bill, the whole, or practically the whole object of this Bill, is the protection of shop assistants, against which I have not one word to say. The whole idea and form in which it has been carried out have now for some years been beyond the opportunity for criticism or substantial alteration. My fundamental proposition to your Lordships is that it is not right, under the name of a Bill the object of which is to protect shop assistants, to penalise and to restrict the liberty of law-abiding persons, who employ no shop assistant at all, and whose industry will not in any way that I can make out prejudice shop assistants in general, or any individual among them in particular.

The Bill as it stands says: Every shop shall, save as otherwise provided by this Act, be closed for the serving of customers not later than nine o'clock in the evening on one day in the week (in this Act referred to as 'the late day'), and not later than eight o'clock in the evening on any other day in the week, and those hours are in this Act referred to as the 'general closing hours.'

There are numerous and peculiar exceptions introduced into this Bill, but the noticeable thing is that the exceptions are almost always in favour of consumers of particular commodities which are in a mild way articles of luxury, because the vendors of table waters, sweets, chocolates, or ice cream are allowed a different time. The retailers of tobacco and smokers' requisites are also specially favoured, and if you are keeping open for the "main purpose of the exhibition or show," whatever that may mean, that again is exempt from some of these restrictions. I think, finally, in the Schedule there is a relaxation in favour of those who wish to purchase motor or cycle supplies or accessories. In those cases, apparently, the shop assistant is to go to the wall because the great will of the people demands it. Those who demand chocolates and sweets, smokers' requisites and petrol, and so on, must, like youth, have their way.

With these exceptions shop assistants are protected up and down and very effectively, and at whose expense? At the expense of the man who keeps a shop by himself, the man who would rather be in his shop than at a moving-picture show, the man who, if he can, earns another shilling before he goes to bed and says his prayers for it before going to sleep—that is the person who for some reason is to bear the expense of this arrangement. It is surprising to me that it should be necessary in this House to try to intervene at rather a late stage to save British subjects from an invasion of their right to keep their own premises open as late as they like, to work as hard as they will, and to make their living honestly if they can. I think it is still more astonishing to find that the necessity for doing this has arisen because the interposition of a Conservative Minister imposed in another place the condition that all must be swept into the net on the same terms, and that people who had assistants and people who had not assistants should all be shut up in the same manner in the name of the protection of employees in shops.

Your Lordships, of course, know that this is a matter which has been enquired into on a considerable scale. There was an elaborate Committee, which published an elaborate Report, which I dare say your Lordships have seen, but not read. There is also an association, who for years have been devoting themselves to the cause of shop assistants, and I have no doubt deserving their gratitude. One example of their efforts, if your Lordships have fared as I have, has been in your hands since this morning, and, as it shows very clearly by what—I will not say arts—but by what organisations the present state of opinion has been stoked up to its present pitch, I would ask your Lordships' permission to let me draw attention to it. It is the Early Closing Association: President, the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill; patrons, the most rev. Primate and one member at least of the Government in your Lordships' House. This association assures me and those to whom the letter is addressed that, on behalf of the million and three quarters of shop workers throughout the country—the shop workers for whom this legislation is introduced—they make an earnest appeal to me (so thorough is their canvass) to support the Shops Bill as at present constituted without the re-insertion of the original Clause 2, "which, if included, will render the Bill unworkable and useless." That is to say, that the Bill cannot be worked at all, that it would be no good at all, unless you sacrifice these poor people, who may be many or who may be few—and I do not care whether they are many or few, for not the meanest of them ought to be deprived of his rights—unless you sacrifice them in this sense, that they are not to be allowed to keep open their shops when other people are shut.

There was, it seems, a great rally in the month of June and parties came by road from many parts to Knole Park Paddock, Sevenoaks. The afternoon "was devoted chiefly to sports, and the general atmosphere was one of go-as-you-please." That, I think, is a very good attitude for shopkeepers generally. The Chairman of the Sevenoaks Urban District Council was there, and on a raised platform the Sevenoaks Town Band rendered delightful music. But the real object of the gathering, of course, was to pass this resolution, which "was carried at the sound of the bugle":— That this gathering of small shopkeepers, their wives and shop assistants, assembled at Knole Park, Sevenoaks, Kent …. respectfully urges the Government to place permanently upon the Statute Book the Small Shopkeepers' and Shop Assistants' Charter of Liberty, viz.: the Shops (Hours of Closing) Bill ….

and then the date of its stage in the House of Commons is mentioned— and to decline assent to the re-insertion of the original Clause 2, which would render the Act useless. And so much does that represent the policy of His Majesty's Government that my noble friend Lord Desborough has been for the last two or three minutes unable to control the machine-gun fire of "Hear, hears," with which every word that I have read from this interesting document has been accompanied.

Now is that the right way in which even the Early Closing Association, with its distinguished patronage and its enormous membership, should approach the matter? Of course, associations which consist largely of shop assistants will support whatever is necessary to ensure to themselves a fixed early closing hour. That is what they are out for, and I for one am not going to say that there is anything inconsistent in their attitude. Of course, also, shopkeepers, great and small—and quite possibly the small even more than the great—will stand by their shop assistants, because, after all, if you have a large shop or series of multiple shops, with overhead charges running into a considerable amount, the more you can drive the public into your shops early in the day, and turn off the lights and shut up the shop early in the day, the less burden your overhead charges will be; and it is to their interest not to keep open an expensive shop later than a fair stream of customers would seem to dictate. But why is it that they should have this hostility to the shopkeepers who keep no assistants, who attend to their own shops, and whose overhead expenses probably consist of nothing but the rent and the rates on the small tenement which they occupy?

As I do not anticipate from the course of the Bill on Second Reading that its official supporters will give any very elaborate explanation of the reasons why this has been done, I must deal for a moment with the reasons that are given. The Committee gave a good deal of attention to this subject. I will not trouble your Lordships with the evidence, though I studied that with some care; but the observation I want to make upon it is that the evidence that they had before them was almost exclusively the evidence of large organisations—the secretary, or a managing director, or someone of that kind appearing before them to give expression to what he said was the opinion of his organisation. The result of that, of course, was that they heard in the main—not quite exclusively, but in the main—the opinions of highly organised bodies, containing for the most part shop assistants and the employers of shop assistants, and in very Few cases containing shopkeepers who had no assistants at all. And, not unnaturally, the combined voice of these associations was in favour of uniform closing, which was, of course, the thing that would make it easiest for the shopkeeper and the assistants both together. But even they could give no more cogent reasons for insisting that there should be no class of shopkeepers free from the limitations of the Bill than those which I shall read. They said:— We think that such a method would give rise to serious administrative difficulties and would, in additon, be open to other objections, not least among them being the undesirability of allowing shops where no assistants are employed unlimited hours to compete with shops conducted with the aid of assistants. They refer to other objections, but; they do not say what they are.

The two points, and as far as I can make out from the debates in another place the only two points, are just those two—that there would be legislative difficulties, and that it is undesirable to let people who do not employ assistants compete any more than can be helped with the people who do. As to the administrative difficulties, they come down to this. We are told that it will be necessary for inspectors or police to ascertain whether the person who is keeping the shop is an assistant or not, and they might not be willing to take his word for it, and they might have difficulty in getting evidence on the subject; and therefore we are told it would require an army of inspectors to keep these people in their places. It seems to be forgotten that you cannot ensure that all shops will shut at a uniform time without having a very great staff of inspectors of some kind to go round and see that the law for early closing is observed.

It seems to have been forgotten that inspectors who would have to be employed for that purpose in any case could equally well take note of the shops that were open and seemed to have only one person in them. If they did not find out in the course of a few weeks who kept which shop and what the man was, I can only say that they must be very little fitted for the purpose for which they are employed. There is a volunteer body of police they could always rely upon and that is composed of the shopkeepers who employ assistants. They would be quick to be down on their neighbours who kept their shops open when their own shops were shut if they had the least ground for thinking that they were not really one-man shops, but were transgressing the law and ought to be pulled up. Considering that the fine for the second offence runs to £50, I think your Lordships will agree at once that this is rather massive machinery for crushing a very small butterfly and that the chance of anybody having the temerity to risk such a fine on the chance of escaping detection would be practically negligible.

The other thing is the undesirability of allowing shops where no assistants are employed unlimited hours to compete with shops conducted with the aid of assistants. Upon what principle can that be set up against the ordinary liberty of the subject? These early closing hours, apart from the one day a week closing, were imposed upon us during the War from the necessities of the War, with the object of saving light and fire, and for reasons of that kind. One of the recommendations of this Bill when it was moved on Second Reading was that at last we should now get rid of D.O.R.A. The fact, however, is that instead of War necessities imposed upon us for the purpose of national economy, we are now to have bound upon us the shackles of the closed shop applied to the whole industry of shopkeeping; that is to say, that it is undesirable that one shopkeeper should compete with another except according to strict rules fixed by somebody else. If the large shopkeeper does not wish to work or is restrained by law from working more than a certain number of hours a day, neither shall the small shopkeeper, though he employs nobody but himself, be allowed to work any longer. Why? Because these people are so dreadfully afraid that in the hour or two longer that these small people will keep open they might pick up some latecomer and get a little bit of trade that otherwise would have waited until next day and have gone into the shop, with its large establishment of assistants, that was open until 8 o'clock.

No one seems to have considered much the convenience of the customers. Over and over again in the debates, in the circulars and in the Report of the Committee, I find this statement: We are educating the public out of their bad habit of late hours. I do not think you could hit upon a more arrogant phrase than that if you tried. By what right does even so exalted an association as that of the shop assistants claim to educate the public as to the hours at which it shall buy what it wants from shops? Their business is to serve the public, not to dragoon the public into their shops at inconvenient hours. They seem to forget that the poor, who are easily forgotten, are not always very anxious to go into big shops. Women who have not the clothes in which they would be willing to be seen in big shops are glad to have, and they seek out, humbler shops in the by-streets. Women who are driven with their work all day, have to seek out, and are glad to seek out, a place where they can lay in their stores late at night perhaps for shop assistants, but the day of these women is not over for a long time. Women who cannot lay in much store at a time because they have neither the storage room in their houses nor the money, have to buy from day to day to feed themselves almost from hand to mouth. The great art of the mother of a working family is to know when to buy and how to buy to the best advantage. A very small amount of study would teach anyone who went about it with what care and skill they find out where to cheapen the things they want to the best advantage.

Mrs. Phillips, a member of the Committee who took great pains and was exceedingly well-informed upon the subject, instances this case. Butchers, who have not the modern apparatus of a refrigerating store on their premises—of course, formerly there were but few who had, and there are many now who cannot afford it—not infrequently lay in rather a larger stock of meat than they can be quite certain of disposing of in the day. Then, as the end of the day comes they reduce their prices and mark them down, and the shrewd woman who is buying waits until it is near the butcher's closing hour, until she gets what she wants at the lowest price it is going to hear. If everything is to be shut at 8 o'clock, that will be over. That source of relief of the small income will be cut off. Supposing a woman is working at charing until 8 o'clock, when is she going to do her shopping? Supposing a shop assistant works as a shop assistant until 8 o'clock and then has to take his or her part in tidying up the shop after the door is shut, when is he or she going to shop? People seem to forget altogether that there is a substantial class of the public who, not from any original sin or any slothfulness or any unintelligent indifference to cinemas and chocolates but simply from the hard necessities of their lives, want a few hours in which to do their shopping when they feel inclined and are not satisfied that any great national object is attained by shutting up the people that serve.

Let me take an everyday instance, the small cobbler who is working away at his trade of mending the shoes that are left with him, by the light of a lamp on his counter and who leaves his door open so long as he is working. He may just as well leave it open as not. He would go on working even if he shut up the shop. It is company if someone comes in. It is often a convenience for someone to come in and leave a pair of shoes or take them away. Instead of his shutting himself up behind his shop in the smell of his leather parings, he at any rate has the advantage of an open door and of an occasional visit from a neighbour or customer. What, harm is there is that? Is the shop that is able to employ an assistant or two further down the street in any great peril? If it is, why does not the shopkeeper turn to himself and keep his shop open for another hour and let his assistants go? This thing is not worked out from the practical point of view but from theory. It interests those attending these go-as-you-please entertainments in the public parks and who carry resolutions—unanimously, of course.

I would ask your Lordships to recollect that this Bill applies to the whole of Great Britain. It applies to little villages, to small towns, to places where life is dull and cinemas are few, where people are still neighbourly and where it is not considered a hardship to be going on with the trade that your hand is accustomed to even to a later hour than that at which the youthful assistant feels that his day's work—like Kaspar's—is done. All those people are to be shut up compulsorily unless they happen to be dealing in chocolates or smokers' requisites or in petrol and bicycle accessories, in which case they have to keep at, their work until the smoker, the chocolate-eater and the petrol consumer choose to assent to the shop being shut up. Really it cannot be good political economy, if there be such a thing, it cannot be neighbourly good sense, and I think it cannot be good politics to lay the heavy hand upon a large number of people, some of whom, and a good many of whom, I think, are quite capable, lowly as they are, of resenting injustice and hard treatment.

I have put my case before you. I do not know whether I have succeeded in making any impression upon your Lordships, but I do beg you to remember that these people, whom I believe to be very numerous, but who, even though they were few, ought not to be trampled upon—these people are humble and they are poor, and unless your Lordships will befriend them they have few friends. Are these people, simply for the sake of what is called "administrative uniformity," simply to promote some kind of compromise between the shopkeeper with one assistant and the shopkeeper with two, and the assistants themselves—are these people to be sacrificed? Is there any conceivable reason why these trades should be put on the same plane as alcoholic liquor or the sale of poison? What is there harmful about a shop being kept open? Why should you compel it to close because the man up the street has not the courage to shut his shop and leave the business to his competitor, because he has to stay a little longer for fear a few shillings may go past him that he otherwise would have absorbed? I beg your Lordships at least to take this into serious consideration, and I trust that you will be willing to accept the Amendment in the form in which I beg to move it.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 12, at end insert as a new subsection: ("(4) Any shop may be kept open during the general closing hours if no person other than the occupier of the shop is employed or engaged in or about the business of the shop during these hours".)—(Viscount Sumner.)


It used to be the proud boast of the Englishman that his home was his castle, but now the thin end of the wedge has been inserted in the shape of a horde of officials who can enter his house without, his leave. It is now sought to prevent him carrying on his business; in fact, it really is a case of putting the shackles of trade union regulations on persons who are not members of a trade union. How could such businesses as Woollands and Whiteley's and shops of that kind have become the great businesses that they are to-day if their proprietors had not been allowed to be industrious? The logical consequence of making all these people close their shops is that you must prevent casters from carrying on their business in competition with them. I hope very much that the noble Viscount's Amendment will be accepted.


I am sorry to say that I am not in a position to accept the Amendment which has been proposed by my noble friend. Many of his arguments were very attractive; they almost convinced me that something ought to be done in this matter. One would have thought in listening to my noble friend that this was an entirely new proposal, and that the promoters of this Bill were making a fresh invasion of the liberty of certain people. That is not really so. This question was ventilated as far back as 1904, when this proposal was opposed. You will cut entirely at the root of it if you accept the Amendment which has been moved and I hope that will not be done. The history of the matter is a simple one. This proposal was refused in 1904, but under the Defence of the Realm Act certain arrangements were made for early closing which have been continued ever since in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act year after year. As the proposals of this Bill have worked so well, and as most of the people concerned are satisfied, it is thought right that they should be made permanent. I do not think the noble and learned Viscount himself shops after eight o'clock, so that it does not matter very much to him whether or not the Amendment is carried.

At any rate, what is now proposed has worked generally quite well, and it is now sought to make permanent the arrangements that have been so far temporary. It is very undesirable that they should continue to be temporary. The Government, I suppose, have not changed their attitude in this matter. They look at it from the administrative point of view and no doubt also from other points of view. I have mentioned that in the circumstances it is impossible for me to accept the Amendment. I cannot enter into all the arguments of the noble and learned Viscount. As I say they were very attractive and were very ably expressed, as his arguments always are. I trust, however, that the House will not assent to them but will allow this Bill to pass as it is.


Perhaps it would be convenient to your Lordships if I stated the attitude of the Government at the earliest possible stage. The question is one of importance, and has already in another place, received a considerable amount of attention. I see that my noble friend has somewhat altered the Amendment which he put down upon the Paper by putting in the word "occupier" instead of "owner" of the shop. The owner of the shop would naturally be the owner of the freehold, and if the Amendment applied only to that class of person it would be a very limited class. I would also suggest that he should make an alteration in the words "Any shop may be kept open during the general closing hours." Would it not be better if the words were "after the general closing hours"? That, I think, would express what the noble Viscount means by his Amendment.

Having criticised the words of the Amendment I might, with your Lordships' permission, say something on the general question. Whether the single owner of a shop should be allowed to keep that shop open when other premises are closed is a matter which has been discussed for some considerable time. I rather demur to the statement of my noble friend that this Bill is entirely in the interests of shop assistants. It is a Bill that deals with the regulation of the closing hours of shops as shops throughout the country. The alteration which my noble friend tries to introduce here is something which was originally in the Bill, as he stated, but it was struck out in Standing Committee in the House of Commons. The Amendment we are now discussing was also considered with very great care by the Mackenzie Committee, and they carne to the conclusion that it should not remain in the Bill. It has also been considered by the Government in Cabinet, and the Home Secretary stated in the other House that if it were carried it would practically destroy the Bill and its objects.

My noble friend behind me referred to several resolutions that were passed to the sound of the bugle. I naturally applauded that because they were maintaining the position which I am trying to uphold at the present time. Several bodies have been in communication with the Home Office, and with the permission of the House I should like to state who those bodies are. All the organised bodies representing the retail trade, such as the National Chamber of Trade, the Early Closing Association, the London and Suburban Traders' Federation, the National Federation of Shopkeepers and Small Traders—they represent a large majority of those for whom my noble friend was speaking—are strongly opposed to any exemption of one-man businesses on the ground that such an exemption would cut at the whole scheme of early closing. Then there was a deputation which attended at the Home Office and urged that such an exemption would force all the other shopkeepers to remain open. You really would force all the others in the same situation to keep open for hours which are considered unnecessarily long. The closing hour now is eight o'clock or nine o'clock. That is late enough. But if you are going to exempt a certain class of people—and I will say something more about them later—you force all the people in similar circumstances to keep open to the very latest hour permitted.

There is another class of trader to which my noble friend behind me did not allude. There are street traders. Street traders come under the operation of early closing in the same manner as other traders do under the Acts of 1912 and 1920. If you are going to allow these one-man shops to keep open you will of necessity and in fairness have to allow these street traders to ply their trades at the same time. There are many objections to that course. Shopkeepers and others have protested against such unfair competition going on and against such an extension of the hours of labour in shops. Then there are various other difficulties. You may have a one-man shop kept by a man with a large, energetic and enterprising family. The family would all belong to the one man.


No, no. The clause does not include them.


But how can you prevent his family working?


It is not difficult now to prevent young people from doing that.


Oh, you think young people do not want to work. But how can you prevent any one working who wants to work? Then a man with a one-man business might take others into partnership. They would belong to the firm and would go on working. I do not see anything in the clause to prevent that. There would be very great difficulty also with regard to administration. Many of my noble friends on this side and on the other side of the House are very averse from what they call bureaucracy. Under this subsection think the number of inspectors would have to be enormously increased. I do not see how you could prevent it. If the closing hour is nine o'clock, say, then the least intelligent person walking down a street can see whether a shop is open or not, but if the shop is open he would have to go inside to see if only duly qualified owners or occupiers of the shops or members of the family were working. There are shops which may be kept open and which are allowed to sell certain things by shop assistants, and a certain number of things may only be sold by my noble friend's friends. Any inspector who went in—he need not be a policeman—would have to find out if anything was being sold that ought not to be sold by an assistant but only by the shopkeeper.

It would be almost impossible to administer. This is not my opinion only. A deputation was received from the Association of Municipal Corporations with regard to this particular provision, and they said the difficulties of administration would make it almost impossible for them to carry it out. I would venture to submit with all due deference to your Lordships' House that first of all this Amendment is condemned by every organised body, and further that it is condemned by the Committees, the Mackenzie Committee and the Standing Committee of the House of Commons. It is their considered opinion that the passing of this Amendment would absolutely ruin the Bill. I do not know that I need say more about this except that the Cabinet have carefully considered the matter and they have come to the conclusion that it would not be in the interests of the country or of the shopkeepers that this Amendment should be carried.


I never like to oppose, or rather I should say I always tremble in opposing, anything moved by the noble and learned Viscount who initiated this discussion. He says all that there is to be said on the side for which he is pleading and says it with such forcefulness that he makes everyone want to agree with him if possible. I was interested in some of the things he said when he kindly intimated his belief in some legislation for the protection and help of shop assistants. Shop assistants are a class who do need some legislation to prevent them from being subject to conditions of overwork which, especially as regards young women who form such a large proportion of them, are mischievous in a high degree. On the occasion when this Bill came up for Second Reading the noble and learned Viscount expressed himself in the same kindly way. It was more difficult to follow the arguments which were used by Lord Banbury of Southam, who succeeded Viscount Sumner in that debate. Lord Banbury said:— With regard to shop assistants, there is no reason that I can see why it is necessary to say that they may not work for more than a certain number of hours, and no reason why you should prevent an individual doing as he likes in such a matter. That is perfectly clear, and it is very far-reaching. It goes, of course, against the whole principles of the Factory Acts and of legislation about hours of labour in large factories or small ones, and all the protection given to those who work and are downtrodden and are not their own masters or mistresses in this matter.

I venture to think the position has not been fairly put by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner. He gave a picture which would almost suggest to one that in the districts with which we are trying to deal, you would find large shops, great emporiums with numbers of assistants, cheek by jowl with little shops which are kept by a single occupier without assistants. He spoke of shops into which a woman would be afraid to go because she was not wearing her best dress and so on. That is not what takes place at all. I happen to know a good deal about this because for a great many years, long before there was any compulsory legislation such as there is at present, I was one of those engaged in studying the question of shop hours and shop assistants. We then endeavoured to bring about early closing by voluntary association on the part of shopkeepers, and the astonishing thing was to find how impossible it was to get even those whom you might imagine to be well-to-do and strong shopkeepers, people of apparent prosperity, to close their shops so long as little shops remained open. But there were no great shops alongside them. In poverty-stricken streets you will find a large number of shops. One will be occupied by a shopkeeper with one assistant or possibly two, and another by a man or woman alone.

The noble and learned Viscount spoke of the woman who was being prevented from earning her money at a later hour by keeping open when the shops round her are closed. We are asked to remember the poor, the down-trodden and the suffering, and we are begged to take care that we are not imperilling their rights. I maintain that there is a class a hundred times greater of those who are being down-trodden, and they are the shop assistants in the small shops, not in the great emporiums, the anæmic girls, the overworked young women who are kept at work while the shops are open because no persuasion will induce the shopkeepers to close so long as the shop next door or two doors away is still open. We are dealing with very small earnings and what seem here to be very small matters. The noble and learned Viscount spoke of a difference of three or four shillings in prices, but it is really a matter of three or four halfpence. They are cutting it down to the closest possible figures, because of the rivalry between one shop and another.

I want to impress upon your Lordships that if we are to enable the poor shopkeeper who has an assistant or two to be in a position that will allow him to close his shop without suffering the financial loss that he so much dreads, we must make the thing universal. In the days when we were doing it by voluntary association we found that the thing could often be done over a whole area or a large town but for two or three people. It may be easy to say that the rest were very cowardly if they submitted to the dictation of two people who remained open. So it may be, but in these poor regions rivalry is so great that they will all remain open so long as any shop in the neighbourhood is remaining open. As for the curious fact that people prefer to do their shopping late and to stand in the streets earlier in the evening, when perhaps they might be doing their shopping, I do not blame them. It is their custom and there it is. I should like to take the noble and learned Viscount into some of the streets which surround the house in which I live in South London and let him see what happens in the evening. He would find conditions very different from those which he pictured to us with so much eloquence. I believe it is true to say that, if we allow exemption of shops where there are no assistants and a man or woman is working alone, we shall keep other shops all along those streets constantly open and we shall prevent the very thing that we are aiming at in this Bill. I am sure that the Amendment proposed would have a mischievous effect, and I should like your Lordships to notice that in every place where it has been discussed, in the House of Commons or in the House of Commons Committee or elsewhere, the result has been arrived at that to replace in the measure the clause that was struck out would practically defeat the object of the Bill, would do great harm and would prevent what is really a beneficial measure from attaining its purpose.


On the omission of this clause from the original Bill one would have expected that much stronger reasons would have been given before interfering with the liberty of the subject. Why should a man using his own time in his own business in his own house be interfered with in this manner? That is the real point, and it has not been met. The noble Lord who defended the Bill from the Government Bench spoke with a deference for organised unions and an enthusiasm for Governmental interference which one might have expected to come from the Front Opposition Bench rather than from the Government Bench. My noble friend who is in charge of the Bill is seldom short of excellent reasons for any course that he adopts, but I failed to observe that he gave any reasons against accepting the Amendment of the noble and learned Viscount beside me. It is true that the most rev. Primate endeavoured to answer some of the points put forward with irresistible weight by Lord Sumner in moving the re-introduction of this clause, but the essential part of the noble Viscount's argument has not been met, and I sincerely hope that this clause may be put back into the Bill.


I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that in dealing with the greatest industry of all in this country we do not impose, or seek to impose, any of these somewhat intolerable conditions. Take the industry of agriculture. Are you going to tell the small occupier that he is not to do more than so many hours work a day? Far from it. The line that the State has always taken has been to encourage him. The small occupier is the spoilt child of the State, the "white-headed boy," and the State is always ready to produce money to lend to him and to encourage him in working on his estate for the longest hours possible. Why should you make a distinction between the small occupier on the land and the small occupier in the cities? The large occupiers of the land are handicapped because they have to employ agricultural labourers who are limited to a certain number of hours. They are prevented from working for more- than fifty hours a week in the summer and forty-eight hours in winter by the agricultural wages board which the State has set up. But these hours do not apply to the small occupier and were never intended to apply to him. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and it is unfair to treat the occupier inside the cities in a different way from that in which we treat the occupier outside.


It always gratifies me to hear these pleas for liberty. I am quite certain that most of your Lordships are faithful to the old English idea of liberty. But unfortunately, or fortunately, we have made very considerable exceptions to that theory, and I should like to point out to my noble and learned friend and others of my noble friends who sit behind me that in the Factory Acts are embodied a denial of liberty. Which Party was the author of the Factory Acts? Was it the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party? Everybody knows that it was the Conservative Party, and the predecessors of my noble friends on these Benches no doubt supported the Factory Acts, following the crusade of the great Lord Shaftesbury. To that extent they invaded liberty. That is to say, they said to grown people: "Notwithstanding that you desire to work beyond a certain time, the law does not allow you to work." This denial has penetrated the whole of our industrial legislation, and it is the work of the Conservative Party. I have boasted of if a thousand times on platforms in this country, and so have those of my noble friends behind me who have gone on platforms. I do not think that the noble and learned Viscount addresses public meetings, and no doubt it would not be very proper, on account of his great judicial position, for him to do so, but others of my learned friends have gone right through the country and nave taken that line.

I should like to make this remark. There were two divisions in my noble and learned friend's speech. He spoke of the interests of the occupier of the one-man shop. He also spoke of the interests of the poor purchaser, and he asked, was it not a great shame that the poor purchaser should not be able to buy what he wanted at a late hour? He seemed to think that that was an overwhelming argument, but why are the rights of the poor purchaser to be confined to the one-man shop? If he has this overwhelming right to purchase what he likes, at whatever time he likes, that is an argument against the early closing of shops altogether, and if my noble and learned friend really thinks that, I submit to his intensely logical mind that that is an argument against the early closing of shops altogether. Why should the poor purchaser he restricted to going late into the one-man shop? My noble and learned friend used the phrase that after all shops were for the public and not the public for the shops. That applies also to shops where there are assistants, just as much as to shops which have only a single occupier. Therefore I think I must allow myself to wipe out all that part of the speech of my noble and learned friend—all those touching appeals to our compassion for the poor purchaser late at night—because the argument does not hold water. It was not consistent in itself and like the general argument of my noble and learned friend it was not logical, it did not hang together.

We are, therefore, brought back to the simple question, are we going to allow an exception to be made in the Bill in the case of the one-man shop? I must say that, however reluctant one is to check liberty, it certainly does seem very unfair that we should say, by law, to the shop with a few assistants: "You must close," but to the shop with no assistant: "You may remain open." How can one defend this kind of inconsistent provision How can you say to shop A: "You must close," and to shop B next door: "You may remain open"? If you make exceptions of that kind there will be a feeling of injustice and inequity in the minds of the public. They will not be able to understand the subtle mind of my noble and learned friend. They will want to know why there is a distinction between one shop and another. I am, therefore, reluctantly compelled to agree with the various authorities who have pronounced upon this question, that it is not possible to draw a distinction without an injustice, an inequity, between one shop and another, and if you think that the early closing of shops must be done at all, then you cannot draw the line. I hope my noble friend will think of that seriously. After all, we have it on the authority of every speaker in to-night's debate that the fundamental idea of this early closing of shops is good. I am not quite sure whether my noble and learned friend said it with great conviction, but he did say—


May I remind the noble Marquess that I said it was beyond criticism at this time of day? I hope that I am too much of a realist to go back to the days of the Factory Acts and Lord Shaftesbury as a foundation for a model. If it is sought to rest on logic I think these feats of the Conservative Party when even I was not born a little passé.


Being a good Conservative I like to go back to tradition always; but is it not clear from the interruption of my noble and learned friend, what I shrewdly suspected, that he does not approve of the system of early closing of shops at all? I think it is quite clear and quite obvious, and I do not think he will deny it. He may not say it, and it is not necessary he should do so. It is, however, not the view of Parliament up to now, and if I may respectfully say so, it is not the view of your Lordships' House. We have, the great majority of us, always approved of the principle of early closing, just as we approve of those limitations of the Factory Acts. As that is the settled policy of Parliament, I cannot resist the conclusion that this House, like another place, ought to resist this Amendment, and I hope it will do so.


I have no intention of intervening in this debate, but I would like to ask the noble Marquess one question, and that is whether the Factory Acts contain anything to prevent a single-handed factor continuing to work into the night so long as he likes.


May I say a few words on one or two of the arguments used this evening? The most rev. Primate spoke from a full knowledge of the needs of the poor, much greater than mine, but if I may respectfully say so I think he entirely overlooked the fact that we are supposed to be passing a law which will be obeyed. If this law cannot be enforced, it is of no use passing it. My Amendment takes out of the operation of the Bill no single assistant whatever, male or female, young or old, and as we are told that an army of inspectors will enforce the law, you have only to enforce the law and there is an end of the whole of the fears upon which the most rev. Primate's moving speech was founded.

I will turn to the noble Marquess. I cannot tell him how infinitely flattered I am that my little Amendment has attracted members of the Government—not indeed to listen to the discussion—whom we rarely see here at all and whom I suppose are not here in vain; nor would he think it necessary to rise on a mere Amendment in Committee, after the able representative of the Home Office had spoken, unless it had occurred to him that perhaps the arguments which were dictated from the Home Office, and delivered to your Lordships, had failed quite to meet the real point. The point of the Government's argument was that they could not enforce the law unless it were enforced upon all, and then the noble Marquess, with a logical subtlety which is only equalled and never surpassed by any other occupant of the Government Bench, said that I put myself in error and that I was not accustomed to logic. If the logic is his logic then I am not accustomed to it.

He thought something was to be gained by trying to drive me into saying something about the Shop Assistants Acts. He might just as well have tried to drive me into a controversy about the Copernican system. The real difficulty of the Government's argument remains where it was. For some mysterious reason, dictated by thousands of small shopkeepers who do employ shop assistants, they must have the assistance of the law to crush their rivals, or else they will not consent to emancipate the shop assistants. I think it would be better to stand up to them.

On Question, Whether the proposed new subsection shall be there inserted?—

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 25: Not-Contents, 51.

Northumberland, D. Novar, V. Hindlip, L.
Sumner, V. [Teller.] Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.
Denbigh, E. Ullswater, V. Jessel, L.
Eldon, E. Lawrence, L.
Midleton, E. Askwith, L. Leigh, L.
Morton, E. Banbury of Southam, L. Merthyr, L.
Westmeath, E. Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.) Muskerry, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Redesdale, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.] Hare, L. (E. Listowel.) Sydenham of Combe, L.
FitzAlan of Derwent, V.
Canterbury, L. Abp. Plymouth, E. [Teller.] Glenarthur, L.
Stanhope, E. Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.) Stradbroke, E. Hampton, L.
Hanworth, L.
Balfour, E. (L. President.) Elibank, V. Howard of Glossop, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Kylsant, L.
Lovat, L.
Peel, V. Merrivale, L.
Sutherland, D. Younger of Leckie, V. Mildmay of Flete, L.
Wellington, D. Muir Mackenzie, L.
Arnold, L. Olivier, L.
Reading, M. Ashfield, L. Parmoor, L.
Balfour of Burleigh, L. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Beauchamp, E. Biddulph, L.
Birkenhead, E. Cawley, L. Queenborough, L.
Buxton, E. Clwyd, L. Sempill, L.
Clarendon, E. Daryngton, L. Strachie, L.
Cranbrook, E. de Clifford, L. Thomson, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Desborough, L. Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Gage, L. (V. Gage.) Wraxall, L.
Onslow, E.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6:

Special provisions as to holiday resorts.

(2) Any order under this section— (b) shall be made subject to such conditions as the local authority may consider necessary for securing that shop assistants affected by the order shall not be employed in or about the business of a shop for more than such number of hours as may be specified by the order, and shall be entitled to a holiday corresponding to the extra hours worked with full pay; and

LORD DESBOROUGH moved, in subsection (2), (b), to leave out the words "and shall be entitled to a holiday corresponding to the extra hours worked with full pay," and, at the end of the clause, to insert the following subsections:— (3) If, while orders made under this section are in force, any shop assistant affected by any such order is, in any year, employed in or about the business of a shop for extra hours, he shall, subject to the provisions of the Second Schedule to this Act, be entitled to corresponding holidays, calculated in accordance with the provisions of that Schedule, with full wages; and if at the date of the termination of his employment or at the end of the year, whichever first occurs, default has been made in granting to him any holiday or wages to which he is entitled under this subsection, the shop assistant may recover as a debt due from the employer for every day's holiday in respect of which such default has been made a sum equal to one-sixth of the highest weekly rate of wages paid to him in respect of his employment in or about the business of the shop during the year or the part thereof during which he has been employed therein. (4) For the purposes of this Act— 'Extra hours' means, in relation to any shop assistant, hours in excess of the customary working day, being hours after the general closing hours fixed by or under this Act otherwise than by an Order made under this section: 'Customary working day' means, in relation to any shop assistant, the daily number of hours during which shop assistants of his class are, while unaffected by any order made under this section, customarily employed in or about the business of the shop in which he is employed: 'Full wages' means, in relation to any holiday granted to a shop assistant, wages at a rate equivalent to the rate of wages to which ho was entitled immediately before the holiday.

The noble Lord said: These Amendments, which embody a small verbal Amendment of which I have given notice, really carry out the intentions both of those who moved them in the House of Commons and also of the promoters of the Bill. I think they are agreed.

Amendments moved—

Page 4, line 14, leave out from ("order") to ("and") in line 16.

Page 4, line 20, at end, insert the said subsections.—(Lord Desborough.)

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

First Schedule:

  1. FIRST SCHEDULE. 378 words